Had an interview for a work placement yesterday. Finding my bike the best method for getting there, even with a 45-minute journey- it *was* sunny- I went along. I stopped off at Imperial to drop off a bag of wushu weapons for my beau’s wushu class later that evening, realising that it might look bad to step into the production company office with a bag of Chinese swords on my back. After a lot of manic pedalling and near-bussplat misses, I found the right street, then found the innocuous door, squeezed between tailor shops and small supermarkets. Stepping inside, I found myself in a quiet hall of thick carpet, and upstairs, a small collection of offices.
After a bit of handshaking, the two interviewers / director and series editor, started absently asking questions. I say absently, because the affair was very informal, and a bit odd.
‘Have you had any offers from other companies?’
I thought, [Hmm, honesty may be the best tack here... I have received a casual acceptance from another company who seem rather, well, busy, since I only receive one sentence emails from them with skimpy punctuation. Emails like 'Fine just tell us dates' and 'of course'. Against my own verbose and stuffily articulated emails and replies, this has the effect of making me sound like an Oxbridge toff.] Yes,’ I said brightly. ‘Very short replies from a company I think who are rather busy-’
‘Because we need to know that if we offer this placement, someone will take it…’
‘Oh, of course, no this would definitely be my first choice!’ Nervous laugh. I was being perky. I seem to be rather perky these days- making up for days of gloom in yesteryears, I suspect. I have plenty of perky-cheery karma to spend. ‘This has a great reputation in our department… and I find the subject interesting!’
They look a bit surprised that their place has a great reputation. ‘So… why do you want to make science documentaries? What are you hoping this placement will give… to you?’
Oh god, the ‘why are you here’ question. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this one. Did they want me to quickly break down my background? My psychoanalysis of myself? To just express current and present enthusiasm? Saying ‘Because I just do, I think it’ll be interesting and that’s why I’m doing this course’ doesn’t sound convincing enough by itself. I always feel the need to back it up with a bit of past exposition. The problem is how to present it without giving a self-indulgent ten minute monologue about Yourself.
I wasn’t going to get any further help from the two interviewers, either, as the dead silence in the office when no one was speaking came rushing in full force. ‘Did a Biology degree… became interested in science communication… heard about the SMP course… sounded really interesting…’ I blathered variously along these lines, adding cheerily, ‘Haha, this is like my interview for my course last year…’ [Bugger, that sounded unprofessional. What did I say in my interview last year? I must have had some good turns of phrase for them to let me in. I can't remember! Just keep talking...]
Actually, in hindsight I think I kept raving about the artistic and creative nature of media editing at the interview. Never mind. At one point I even asked further what sort of thing they wanted to hear about- again, probably a bad move.
‘I’m interested in learning about topics, it sounds strange, but I’d like to be able to show other people how I see them, share the interest…’
‘So become a teacher,’ suggested one man. He was the main questioner and seemed a bit tired, judging by his general head rubbing and weary look. It was 4:30 and nearing the end of the working day.
‘Ah, but that’s just not creative enough…’ I said. Something along those lines. He nodded, as though to say ‘Aha!’
‘It sounds like you want a job in the media, not just a job in science media.’
[Which was the worse answer? If I say yes to the former, does that make me a shallow media-thrill seeker? If I say yes to the second, am I pigeonholing myself into a small specialty?] ‘Science media first… media second. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, though ideally it would be science…’ I burbled something alone the lines of that. The two fellas gave the impression of having stopped listening halfway through.
‘What were the last science documentaries you watched?’
[Good question. I had watched plenty of snippets of this or that, but I couldn't remember what the last entire and surely 'science' documentaries were] ‘Haha, well to be perfectly honest, the last science documentaries I watched were two episodes of your show this morning,’ I said merrily.
‘Oh, I don’t know if they’re science. Othermanintheroom, would you say they’re science? No, they’re more like humanities…’
[I thought that's what you wanted me to say they were science, judging from the questions you were asking earlier...] ‘Well yes, in a sense, I know they’re not entirely scientific…’ [backpedal, backpedal, too late as I don't think they're listening]
I tell. They nod and chat a little between themselves about people I don’t know.
‘What did you like about them?’
I talk more. I suspect I should not have mistaken ‘being honest’ for shooting myself in the foot when at one point, I admit that I don’t know a lot about the topic of the programmes, but generally enjoyed the programme appearance and felt curious enough to go and research the topic afterwards. In hindsight, I should have made more effort to show the programmes taught me something. Which means it would have helped to watch the shows properly, instead of keeping one eye on the programme and the other on my revision notes.
I also hastily interrupted the ongoing question to add another thing I liked about the programme. It took a bit of time to explain. ‘You mean, how it extrapolates,’ the man finally said, neatly shortening my wordy explanation down to a couple of words.
[That was the word!] ‘Yes!’
The talk moved onto the placement itself. ‘So you just want to make TV programmes.’
[Is this a trick question? Sounds a bit simple. I know, I'll basically reply yes but with enough talk to make myself sound more thoughtful about the issue... and not like a talky perky scatty person at all. Sigh. Exactly like one]
‘You’ll see. It’ll be extremely boring. It’s all fun for the first few hours, then everybody but those two at the front will be sitting around twiddling their thumbs.’
I laugh and smile, beaming inane enthusiasm.
‘No, it’s really like that.’
Annabel shrugs and says, ‘Oh, well…’ in a ruefully merry way. She wonders how long perkiness, cheer or enthusiasm will actually last on these placements. Probably to the end of the third day, when the greyness and reality of the media workplace will swamp her like an upended concrete truck. Meanwhile, she beams about it like a lamb butting its head against the slaughterhouse gates.
They ask a few things about my summer work (making a documentary), a few things about the department. I’m embarrassingly unable to answer what type of cameras we use. Is he asking about the make and model? The mm of film? I get a mindblank, embarrassment, self-deprecating admit so.
‘Right, well, okay…. any… questions?’
I ask about the dates. This turns out to be a good question, as the two men then notice their May project is a tricky one, where the work experience / general assistant won’t be able to go along, so the bonus of on-site shooting is briefly blotted out. There is a confusing discussion between them. They ask more questions about dates at me. Eventually, the situation is resolved. A couple of other questions… then it’s time for a friend and co-student’s interview. I bob about saying thanks and pleasantries, shake a hand, and go.
As for the aftermath, I don’t think I presented myself in the best way. Probably the best thing to do in an interview (I’m guessing) is to mirror the interviewer’s demeanour, but with more pleasantries. I suspect I appeared a bit too ‘chatty’ and cheery. It probably would have helped to have said less and with more seriousness about what I liked about their programmes. I won’t be too bitter if I don’t nab it, as I like my competitors well enough not to be envious. Still… I can’t help feeling sobered by what seems to have been another strong hint at the duller realities of this career again.
Anyway, a week of time will tell, and in the meantime I have to put it out of my mind while I study. Today’s topic- sociology and science, or, a lot of sociologists theorising about why they can theorise about science. I don’t think I’m as thoughtful and well balanced as I like to believe. The scientist in me shouts that their theories are all well and interesting, but at the end of the day it’s the scientists who go back to the labs and actually try and *do* something, discover something, build something, instead of writing archaic papers for other sociologists to argue between themselves till death. I must be a closet positivist- a ’science is the only true knowledge’ elitist. I’d better not tell anybody.